Even before Baltimore’s Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset at the age of 37 following his team’s victory in Super Bowl XLVII, it was clear to anyone who watched one of their games that he clearly was not the same player that he was during his earlier years. The NFL clearly is a young man’s game, and even a linebacker as great as Lewis could not defeat Father Time, but unlike many others, he walked away from the game at an appropriate time.
However, even in his twilight years, he was one of the most intimidating and punishing hitters across the league. Odds are, if you asked players around the league to take a poll on players who they’d want on their side in a back-alley brawl, Lewis’ name would be a common one, along with the “Silverback” James Harrison.
Coincidentally enough, Harrison is now 37 just like Lewis’ last year, but still remains one of, if not, the most feared players that exist in the NFL. In a recent poll of several beat writers of AFC North teams, two of them agreed upon Harrison.
“Maybe it’s the black visor,” said Bengals’ writer Cole Harvey. “Maybe it’s the 1,000 pounds he can squat. Maybe it’s the five-mile stare he has that cuts through cameras and notepads and the chests of opposing quarterbacks.”
It’s a reason #92 is so adored by fans of the Steelers, because of his take-no-crap, hard-nosed, bullying style of play. He’s a true throwback player if there ever was one. He also may quite possibly be the strongest player on an NFL roster today. Any follower of his Instagram account can attest to this, as his feats of strength run the gauntlet of insanity. A 500+ pound bench press? Check. How about a 500+ pound deadlift? Check. Single-arm shoulder presses using a barbell with 135 pounds, or the best, push-ups with a 300-pound All-Pro center resting on his back. Check and check.
I still remember one year during training camp at Saint Vincent College what I witnessed when the 6-foot-8, 345-pound left tackle, Max Starks, was attempting to block Harrison during live drills. At the snap of the ball, it instantly became clear to me why the bull rush is perhaps Harrison’s most effective pass rush move in his arsenal. The best way I can describe it is him basically getting up under the much larger Starks’ pads and forklifting him up onto his backside. Starks’ feet weren’t touching the ground, which proves my point entirely with which the power that Harrison packed on his initial punch. Of course leverage played a role as Harrison gives up 8 (perhaps a hair more) inches to Starks, but credit is also due to his maniacal weight room numbers, mainly on the bench press.
This offseason, he took many of the team’s young linebackers to Arizona to train with him, and although it sounds unorthodox, play a version of volleyball only Harrison could cook up, titled “Danney Ball.” The rules are just like volleyball except the volleyball isn’t a volleyball at all, it’s a heavy medicine ball. Tossing it and catching it require using a variety of muscles that aren’t normally used in traditional weight lifting methods, thus the advantages Harrison and company are gaining.
Even first round draft choice Bud Dupree recognizes the type of brute strength the elder statesman of the Steelers’ LB corps possesses. When the rookie is in the weight room clanging iron at the same time as Harrison, he steers clear.
Whenever he decides to hang up the cleats, a likely scenario could unfold where Harrison finds himself back in Pittsburgh as an assistant strength coach, much like Joey Porter started out as an assistant before ultimately taking over the more prominent role of outside linebackers coach. Harrison is often seen lifting by himself in all his videos and it’s clear why-nobody can keep up with him.